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Endurance horses, Horses for sale

7 Characteristics of a Great Endurance Horse – September 2011

PSV Kandahar & Lucy Dixon floating in at the end of 80km in 43 degree Celsius

Endurance riding is a team sport. The team is the horse and rider and their support crew at the vet checks. The challenges they face are distance, variations in altitude and terrain, difficult going such as rocks, mud or sand, extreme weather fluctuations, time limits and passing the vet checks every 30 km or so. Only the fittest horses with natural talent make the grades…

The vet checks require hydration, soundness and good heart rate recoveries. For the novice and developing endurance horses it is a process of growing as an athlete. For the advanced endurance horse it is a race requiring great fitness and resilience coupled to speed. There are no judges to determine the winners, only the clock ticking off the seconds and the vets giving the nod or not to the horse being fit to continue.

What makes a great endurance horse?

1.  Willing and eager, but calm

In my book, character is the number one criteria. The horse must enjoy what he does. The ideal endurance horse loves to run, loves to see what is over the next hill. It must be competitive and want to win, but yet still be controllable. A runaway horse never wins, it will exhaust itself too early in the race. The lazy horse never wins, you cannot force a horse to run that well, and whipping and spurs are rightly forbidden.

PSV Mabruk - huge heart & lungs - with Donalyn Hennessy. Winner of the Blakeridge 80km in 3h47

In ultra distance events such as 160 kms the horse will feel tired, yet must be willing to go out from base again and again when you ask it. Highly strung horses are undesirable as they stress too much and go off their feed. Endurance horses are transported long distances to compete at rides and are exposed to traffic, strange environments, different water and sometimes feed and frequent changes in temperature. They need to be able to cope with all that, and continue to eat, drink and sleep to keep up their strength.

2.  A good ability to make use of available oxygen

Number two priority is big pipes and pumps. How well oxygen is taken in and supplied to the muscles for running and how efficiently the metabolic waste is cleared away to the liver and for detoxification will determine how long the horse can continue at high speed. For that you need large nostrils, wide nasal passages, huge windpipe and big lungs inside a well sprung rib cage. Look out for extremely dished heads, they have constricted nasal passages. Also stay away from fine swanlike necks with narrow throats. I like a windpipe that fills your hand when you grasp it behind the jaw, it must be loose and not bound up with muscle. The type of head and neck that is being promoted in the Arabian show ring is not the best for endurance.

PSV Jedi & Laura Seegers at the Fauresmith 201km ride - he placed 6th in Standardweights

Oxygen is carried in the blood as well, so you need a big powerful heart and large arteries and veins. Heart size can be guessed at from resting heart rates – the lower the HR the bigger the heart size, generally. A narrow chest does not have room for a big heart and lungs. Artery size can be guessed at from the size of the visible veins like the jugular and veins on the inside of the legs.

3.  A strong frame

Strength of frame is essential. The framework of the horse must be strong enough to withstand the stresses of long term exertion. Correct leg conformation is more likely to withstand stresses than imperfect legs. However, with gradual conditioning, many imperfect horses become strong enough. Good hooves, big flat knees and hocks with strong tendon attachments are good. Spindly legs are undesirable.

PSV Liberty & Abbi Tennant - 3rd Lightweights at Blakeridge. PSV Mercury & Ashley Gower 1st Young Rider

4.  Good Movement

Good movement for endurance is related to efficiency and concussion. High action like a Hackney or Saddler will cause too much concussion on the hooves and joints and is undesirable.

Long, low action (without being so low as to cause stumbling) will cover ground with the least effort. A long-reaching trot and a smooth comfortable canter are great assets.

5.  Not too big

Size does matter. There are more endurance horses disadvantaged by being too big, than those that are too small.

What is too big? 16 hands and taller is undesirable. The horse will be carrying too much body weight for long distances.

PSV Neptune breezing along with guest rider Joe Carr

14.2 to 15.2 is the range I consider ideal. As a standardweight rider, 14.3 is my favourite size. Extra weight carried means extra calories to be burned and more oxygen required. If the horse can carry the rider, any extra weight on the horse’s part is a disadvantage.

Heat loss is another limiting factor. Endurance riding generates a lot of body heat in the horse. Overheating leads to metabolic problems, so cooling efficiency will allow better performance. The large horse take longer to lose body heat than the smaller horse. Big bulky muscles lose heat slowly.

6.  Muscle type

Speed is important if you mean to win. However the horse need not be super fast to begin with, speed can be built on top of stamina as the endurance horse develops over the years.

PSV Karoo - who just gets faster & faster - with Francois Seegers at the SAIC

Muscle type is more important. Too much fast twitch muscle such as the Quarter horse has will leave the horse in the lurch and tiring as the distances increase. You need mainly slow twitch muscle that can function aerobically.

7.  The right breeding

What breeds are best? Without bias, one only needs to analyze the horses that are competing in South Africa to find the answer.At entry level there is a greater variety of breeds, but progressing up the ranks by far the great majority of endurance horses are Arabs, Anglo Arabs, Part Arabs and then the odd exception, such as the occasional Appaloosa, Boerperd, Basuto and Thoroughbred.

Purebred PSV Mauser - our top-ranked FEI horse - and Ashley Gower

The dominance of the Arabian breed in endurance is no accident. This breed fulfils the criteria I have listed better than any other breed. Within the Arabian breed there are certainly bloodlines that are more successful in endurance than others, but that discussion would take all day!

Laura Seegers

HQ | Issue 62 | September October 2011


About Perseverance

PERSEVERANCE Arabian & Endurance Horses have special Arabian bloodlines, they have functionally beautiful bodies, and they do endurance barefoot. TEAM PSV: Francois & Laura Seegers, Gurth & Rosemary Walton, Lucy Dixon, Donalyn Hennessy & Ashley Gower. www.endurancehorse.co.za


13 thoughts on “7 Characteristics of a Great Endurance Horse – September 2011

  1. I love to read about your passion for endurance and your horses! My Arabian mare is barefoot too and we are working towards bridleless. It really is the way to go. Also nice to see these horses moving along on loose reins. Great work!

    Posted by Mary Lord | 1 September 2011, 4:35 pm
  2. Thank you Mary! With most of our horses we either use bitless bridles or halters; although with some of the strongest ones we do sometimes have to use a snaffle for the first leg of a race. But it always feels better when there’s no bit between you and the horse.

    Posted by Perseverance | 1 September 2011, 10:10 pm
  3. 5.Not too big: This was emphasized once again in the European endurance championships in Florac, France on Saturday. The European Gold medallist, Nobby, is a small horse. “Ponton and Nobby are already the stuff of legend however. The Spanish rider and her little 148cms super-champ broke all previous records with their hat-trick that included the 2008 World title, 2009 European title and then their gold medal winning performance at last year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA. And, a year later, they have now raised the bar even higher with their fourth extraordinary success. ” 148 cms makes him, what, 14.3 hh.?

    Posted by Laura Seegers | 12 September 2011, 6:07 pm
  4. Uithou

    Posted by danie | 28 January 2012, 12:13 pm
  5. Hi, my daughter has just started endurance on her partbred arabian pony, I mean pony. He is only 13.2h, his sire arabian & dam arabian thoroughbred welsh cross. He has completed one 20 & 40km with great recovery. He is the only pony we have seen. You mentioned height & I agree with your opinion & reasoning on size, however I am amazed at the increasing size of the arabian endurance horse. I was told that bigger size is desireable to the “Arabs”. Racing there is different & they require them to be taller
    to be competitive. We wait & see how competitive pony will be, he has certainly made an impression on many experienced endurance people. We were surprised that organisers, vets, marshalls & folk remembered his name at only his second event. Hw is a spunky little pony ‘Piccalo’. Happy riding to all. Michelle

    20km to complete before she can do an 80km. So we wull see how competitive she can be on her pony.

    Posted by michelle | 12 March 2012, 4:04 am
  6. My horse size is15hends.he is a glading and light weight .is he perfect for endurance..

    Posted by brijesh yadav | 15 June 2013, 6:13 pm
  7. I currently own a Morab. I have to say he is the most versatile horse I have ever ridden. I recently purchased a young morgan with the purpose of endurance riding. I guess I’m a bit shocked that Morgans are not on the list! Any reasons for that?

    Posted by Holly | 13 February 2015, 4:10 pm
  8. what a great article. i would like to see one written on which strains of arabian make the better choice when outcrossing to another breed to create an endurance athlete.

    Posted by vanessa smith | 29 February 2016, 2:38 am
  9. I have a funny looking horse (if you’re used to thoroughbred and quarters). His dna test indicated Hanoverian, Caspian, and Turkomon breeding. He has a great mind and long smooth gaits, but is on the narrow side. Might he make a beginners endurance horse?

    Posted by Jerri Ferre | 3 December 2017, 4:23 pm


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